Sooooo, St Jamie’s new restaurant opened about 10 ten days ago in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral. It’s called Barbecoa and is the flagship plot in the City’s sparkling but ugly and depressingly formulaic shopping centre, One New Change. There’s a rather smart looking butchery associated with the restaurant and the theme is, on the face of it, barbecued meat. This is a joint venture with a New York barbecuer called Adam Perry Lang. His name’s as big as Jamie’s in all the bumpf and he’s the inspiration for the chargrilling theme. But lets be honest, the intended crowd puller is our Jim.
6 of us shared a bunch of starters: baby back ribs, chicken wings, rarebit soldiers, pork scratchings, prosciutto. They were all pretty uncomplicated dishes and presented stylishly and unpretentiously (in the way you’d imagine if you’ve ever flicked through the pages of Jamie at Home, in America or the Jamie magazine – i.e. on wooden boards or large oval white plates with fresh herby salads on the side). Save for the scratchings, none of them were really made for group eating (though I’d say some look pretty big as starters and most are around or over £10). But it was good to try a selection.
I think the prosciutto salad was probably the best – a few hunks of pecorino, some nice honey roasted almonds, fresh mint, crispy lettuce leaf, clementines and a decent helping of ham. The baby back ribs were very tasty as well though – lovely sticky marinade and fairly meaty portion. Nothing wrong at all with the chicken wings and it was a decent rarebit. The scratchings looked good and were served with a well flavoured and textured mole sauce…but in themselves weren’t salty or tasty enough for my liking. We also got a few different hunks of made-on-the-premises bread. Which were all good, but arrived well after all the other starters had been finished. Ultimately, pretty much everything looked good and tasted decent, but none of it was awesome.
We had some Scottish rock oysters too. One of the guys (whilst attempting his first and probably last oyster) displayed the most explosive gag reflex I’ve ever come across, but I don’t think that was a reflection on the oysters – they were plump, decent value at £8 for 6, and presented well on a big bowl of ice. I enjoyed them.
Mains were, we felt, a bit disappointing. I (and the oyster gagger) had lamb leg steak on, effectively, posh baked beans and rocket. The beans were ok (and definitely better than the bland and under-seasoned bean and leek side dish) and the amount of meat was well judged. However, we thought it was a touch overcooked and not so tasty. Not as good as the legs of lamb I’ve cooked on the BBQ during the course of this summer and so not the best £24 I’ve spent on BBQ’d lamb this year. Also as a comparator, this was nowhere near the quality of what you’d get at a standard asado in Argentina.
A couple of others had the rump steak. Cooked perfectly medium rare, this looked and (apparently) tasted good. Roasted aubergine was a tasty accompaniment. We thought the dish a touch steep at £18 for just 250g of rump, though. Fillet steak with bone marrow (£30) was enjoyed. But I don’t think a fillet steak should be drowned in sauce – put it in a pot on the side for the customer to pour over or dip in as they see fit. Lamb chops were decent but not as pink as the eater was hoping. Maybe one of us should have tried one of the pork or poultry dishes on the large menu. Regardless, the taste of what we did have didn’t match the price tag, particularly once you take into account the addition of side orders (all of which were at worst inoffensive and, in general, probably a bit better than that).
A banana split, ice cream, fruit salad, an Irish coffee and a couple of baked chocolate mousse (mousses? moussi?) represented dessert. All fine. But I’ve cooked and assembled many better tarts, puddings and iced things from Jamie’s books.
The food, then, is ok but not amazing. It felt a little bit like something between a reasonable gastro pub (but not, say, the Bull and Last or Eagle) and a good high street/local independant restaurant. Not destination or flagship food. Maybe the problem is that the style is very, well, Jamie – and because he’s done so well at putting similar recipes on tv and in books, the food seems a little too achievable for the prices that are charged.
What I haven’t mentioned so far is the room itself. I’ve also only made a glib reference to service. I’m lumping this all at the end because I think the decor and the service are probably the most significant and lasting impressions I took from Sunday’s lunch.
Jamie and his financers have clearly spent an absolute fortune on Barbecoa. It’s massive and is expensively kitted out. The kitchen – open so you can see the grills, pits and everything else – is a work of art. At night time, I think the restaurant and it’s views will be a great environment and the bar (I had a great post Saturday evening, pre Sunday lunch Bloody Mary, btw) has a suprisingly good feel for something only metres away from Next, H&M and Accessorize.
The thing is, the restaurant is so big that they’ve had to employ a small army of waiting staff. Unfortunately, many of them are struggling to know what they are supposed to be doing and how they should do it. Systems are obviously new, and I’m not going to make unecessary comments about things which I suspect will get better as the place finds its feet. But I will say that it was only about a quarter full when we were there, yet our meal took a long time (like almost 3 hours long).
More worrying is the script that the staff have learnt. When Jamie tells us about the provenance of a piece of meat, the way something has been cooked, or his inspiration for a dish, it is endearing and interesting because they are his words and his passion. I’m afraid the long winded and over rehearsed, yet nervously and poorly presented spiel from our waiters was unconvincing, contrived and, ultimately, irritating.
Barbecoa was not what I had hoped for but was what I expected. The food is ok and, coupled with the view and the fact it is in a perfect location for City work lunches and group meals, it should do fine; it is inevitable that I’ll be back at some point. But the price of a meal is probably more a reflection of the overheads than the quality of the cooking, the service or the experience.
Barbecoa in 3 words
Meat. Barbecued. Scripted.
We spent roughly £65 per head for 3 courses with a pre lunch snifter and about half a bottle of wine each (including service).
barbecoa.com – One New Change, London, EC4M 9AG – 020 3005 8555